By Rachel Diebel
Nicknamed the Emerald Isle for its strikingly green countryside, Ireland has long been the center of many stories of leprechauns, magic and gold at the end of rainbows. Once you visit, it isn’t hard to see how it came by this magical reputation. Ireland boasts some of the most amazing castles in Europe, from fortresses with spooky histories to famous filming locations. You can’t help but want to see them all, so hop in a rental car and don’t forget to pack your camera!
Blarney Castle is the most famous of Ireland’s many ancient castles, and for good reason. Blarney is located in a beautiful forest near Cork, Ireland. It is always crowded with tourists lining up to kiss the Blarney Stone, a rock located at the top of the castle’s tower that is said to give the gift of eloquence to anyone who braves the sheer drop and hangs upside down to kiss the stone. Though the 600-year-old castle is now mostly a ruin, it is still well worth the visit for its 60 acres of gardens, the nearby mansion, Blarney House, and, of course, the chance to improve your powers of persuasion with one simple kiss.
Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is located in Tipperary, a less populated area of southern Ireland. The “rock” of the name is a large green hill banded with limestone and sheep. The castle is part of a large complex of buildings and museums, including one of the most extensive collections of Celtic art in Europe. The entire complex is walled, and also contains a picturesque graveyard filled with Celtic high crosses. The largest and most famous of the crosses, Scully’s Cross, was dramatically destroyed by lighting in 1976 and the shattered remains add to the lonesome beauty of the Rock of Cashel.
If you’re a fan of thrills, chills and horror movies, Leap Castle is the place for you. Widely considered to be the most haunted castle in all of Ireland, it features a gory history of murders and hangings. It is most famed for its “Bloody Chapel,” the site of a priest’s murder by his brother and the subsequent discovery of a trapdoor behind the alter hiding a pit lined with spikes, as well as a nearby field. Aside from its fascinating history, Leap Castle boasts a beautiful view from its central (and allegedly haunted) tower, looking toward the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Trim Castle, the largest Norman Castle in Ireland and an easy drive from Dublin, sits on the bank of the River Boyne. Built by a major Irish lord over the course of 30 years, the castle’s biggest claim to fame is the fact that it was one of the main filming locations for the Mel Gibson movie “Braveheart.” The film itself is sometimes projected onto the side of the castle for summer viewing parties! Trim Castle is only accessible via a guided tour because the many suspended walkways and soaring towers make it a bit dangerous to explore alone. Although the 80-foot-high towers are not for the faint of heart, once at the top you can see all the way to Tara, about 10 miles away!
Cahir Castle, resting on an island in the middle of the River Suir in south-central Ireland, is one of the best-preserved castles in the country. The main buildings of the complex, including the keep and the tower, look much like they did in 1140 when it was constructed. Offering guided tours and a short film detailing the castle’s history, Cahir is very tourist friendly. However, the best reason to visit Cahir Castle is the spectacular view from the top of the tower. Keep climbing up and up the winding spiral staircases until you reach the top and then stop to take in the stunning view of Ireland’s patchwork countryside.